Today we are answering a question we hear a lot from landlords in San Francisco: When a tenant moves out and you are ready to refund the security deposit, what can you charge them for? The first thing you need to know is that you have to return the security deposit within 21 days. If you have kept money from the security deposit, you’ll need to include copies of all invoices and receipts.

If your tenants move out and you need to have the apartment cleaned, you can charge them for it. If there’s trash left behind and you need to have it hauled away, you can charge the security deposit for that. If someone put a fist through the wall and there’s a large hole that needs to be repaired, you can definitely charge for that. Go ahead and charge the security deposit for any cleaning that needs to be done or repairs that are a result of damage caused by the tenant.

You cannot charge for normal wear and tear. That’s kind of a gray area and it’s hard to find a set definition of what exactly it is. We can give you a couple of examples, however. If a tenant hangs pictures on the walls and there are small nail holes, you cannot charge for that. It’s normal wear and tear and it’s not damage. It’s the same thing with scuff marks on the wall. If a sofa has rubbed against the wall and left a mark, you cannot charge for it. Minor scratches on wood floors will be considered wear and tear but a huge gash in that floor will be considered damage.

Determining what to do will require a fair amount of common sense, and you have to determine what’s reasonable. We always recommend taking a lot of pictures before the tenant moves in and after the tenant moves out so you know exactly what the condition of the property is at each time. You can compare the before and after photos, which will be especially helpful if you find yourself in small claims court. Those pictures will back you up.

Remember to be reasonable. The security deposit is not meant to be a revenue source and it’s not meant to be used An image of cardboard cutout of house with piles of money as rental income. You cannot take a tenant’s security deposit and make improvements to your property or put in new appliances. It is primarily for cleaning and damage, and that’s generally what you should use it for.

If you have any questions about security deposits and how to determine what to give back, please contact us at Gordon Property Management, and we’d be happy to help.